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Glen Matlock: ‘I heard The Beatles and immediately wanted to start the Sex Pistols’

As the Sex Pistols’ original bass player, Glen Matlock wrote some of the most iconic punk songs of all time. He tells us what inspired him.

As the Sex Pistols’ original bass player, Glen Matlock wrote some of the most iconic punk songs of all time. On their one and only album, he’s credited as a writer on 10 of the 12 songs, though by the time it came out he’d been given the boot in favour of the less musical but more eye-catching Sid Vicious.

In the midst of his latest acoustic tour of the UK, Matlock took some time out to join The Big Issue on The Music That Made Made Me. Malcolm McLaren famously said that Matlock was thrown out of the Pistols because “he liked the Beatles.” It is, therefore, rather pleasing to hear that Glen has stuck to his guns…

Glen Matlock: The Music That Made Me

Lennon’s vocals inspire the Sex Pistols

My folks passed away in recent years. I found all my records round their house. I started to try and go through them, but some are my mum’s, some are totally naff… Let It Be Me by Gilbert Becaud… Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Kenny Ball and his Paramount Jazz Band, with Waltzing Matilda on the B side.

And then the Beatles came along! When I was growing up, there was a lot of schmaltzy kind of music, and that was a bit more like it. The Beatles Twist and Shout EP was one of the very first records, it might be the first record I bought with my own pocket money, when I was a kid. I bought it from the washing machine shop in Oldham. It was like Radio Rentals or something, where you rented your TV from, and washing machine and radiograms.

John Lennon’s vocal on Twist and Shout is fantastic. It’s a real slice of rock and roll. I heard it and I thought I’d immediately start the Sex Pistols…

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Ready Steady Go and the power of a three minute pop song

We’re going back to the early sixties now. I remember paraffin heaters. I remember icicles on the inside of the windows. I remember having a tin bath. But that was a fantastic time musically. That’s when all the bands, like The Kinks and The Who, The Yardbirds and Small Faces and the Stones came through.

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There was a fantastic TV show called Ready Steady Go, which I don’t think has ever been bettered. Dusty Springfield was on it a lot, and she got hip and kind of discovered Tamla Motown and soul and Stax music.

Playing live, you’d see Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. It was fantastic. What’s not to like?

All those songs they wrote, it was a good yardstick for me. They’re all kind of like mini operas. As well as being a perfect slice of three minute pop they were all about something. They weren’t all, ‘bring down a government’, but you could really nail what the topic of the song was about.

That’s important in song writing: to be clear and concise and sum it up in three minutes. That’s what I always try to do. Whether I succeed or not is another matter. But I have written a few. I think that’s where it comes from.

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Iggy Pop and Bowie live in Aylesbury

Certainly one of the best gigs that I ever saw was the tour for Iggy Pop’s The Idiot. His band was Hunt and Tony Sales as the rhythm section… I think it was Scott Thurston on guitar, and David Bowie playing the piano with a pot plant on it and a pint of beer. That was great.

He was playing in London but they did a warm up gig at Friars in Aylesbury. Nearly all of the punks in town went out to that. I drove there, in my little sports car with my girlfriend at the time, with the bass player from the Heartbreakers, Billy Rath. He spent all the time trying to chat up my girlfriend – in my car!

At the gig there was this fantastic, good looking girl in silver, skin-tight leather trousers prancing around. She soon ended up in London after that. It was Magenta Devine. She’d been going out with John Otway, who lived in Aylesbury. So it all kind of intermingled somehow.

The gig was great. To see Bowie playing piano when he didn’t have to, but wanted to, was kind of cool.

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Snakebite and Motown in the Bird’s Nest

You know when you’re 15 or 16, and you start going to discotheques? We used to have a chain of places in London called the Bird’s Nest. There was the Chelsea Bird’s Nest, there was the Fulham Bird’s Nest in North End Road.

The girls used to drink Pernod and blackcurrant, and the blokes used to drink snakebite with a shot of blackcurrant on top. Everyone had these black glasses and the ultra violet light would make them look a bit funny.

You’d have a couple of them, and you’re a little bit squiffy at that age. I always found at the top end of my hearing went a bit. The only thing I could really hear was the bassline.

That’s when all the Tamla Motown stuff was going on, you know. Especially stuff like the Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion and Edwin Starr – War. I’d pick up on that. That’s what I liked. There’s lots of little things that add up to what you’re doing.

Playing with the Faces

The Faces’ Long Player was one of the very first albums I bought myself. I bought it because the cover is like a facsimile of an old 78 record. It’s even got real stitching down it. Then I got into it.

I actually ended up playing with the Faces. So that was my all-time favourite band and I was in them for a bit. And I got paid for it!

I learned to play the bass by playing along with Ronnie Lane’s parts, but what got me the gig was that I became friends with Ian McLagan, the keyboard player. He actually played with my band, the Rich Kids, and did a tour with us.

I said to him, “Look, if you’re going to reform your band, you know that I know that you know that I’m the right bloke for the job. So put a word in for us.” And he did.

As things evolved, he said, “Glen, are you sure you’re up for this?”

I said, “I learned to play along with these songs, I know these songs backwards…”

He went, “Oh great.”

I said, “It’s just forwards I struggle with.” He laughed. And that got me the gig more than anything.

Glen Matlock is currently on tour around the UK. Tickets available at www.glenmatlock.co.uk.

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